We investigated the climatic sensitivity of oak species across a wide elevation range in the southern Appalachian Mountains, an area where greater knowledge of oak sensitivity is desired. We developed three tree-ring chronologies for climatic analyses from oak cores taken from the Jefferson National Forest, Virginia, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee. We statistically compared the three chronologies with monthly climatic data from 1930 to 2005. The results of our analyses suggest that oak species in the southern Appalachian Mountains require a cool, moist summer for above average-growth to occur. The climate signal increased in duration from high to low elevational and latitudinal gradients, indicating a strong moisture-preconditioning signal during the previous fall at our lowest elevation site. A notable finding of this research was the degree of responsiveness in oaks that are growing in forest interior locations where strong climate sensitivity would not be expected because of the effects of internal stand dynamics. Furthermore, the relationships between evapotranspiration rates and the geographic factors of elevation, latitude, and aspect influence the climate signals at the three sites. Our research suggests that oaks located in a warm and xeric climate experience more physiological stress and put forth a more varied climatic response.
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